chapter  8
8 Pages

The ‘Forward Policy’ Enforced

Robert Bulwer-Lytton was an unusual choice for Viceroy of India. A diplomat by profession, he had found himself, in his upper forties, in the relatively minor post of Minister in Lisbon, from which he was proposing to retire to private life. He had had no administrative experience, and no close knowledge of Indian affairs (although this initial ignorance was shared by many viceroys). Personally he was intelligent, but was also vain, arrogant, impatient and overbearing. Possibly due to his having to endure the fall-out from his parents’ disastrous marriage, he was highly strung and subject, among other complaints, to debilitating migraines. He was by no means the government’s first choice, several other candidates having been ruled out on account of poor health or family responsibilities, and he himself was hesitant about accepting the post, also on health grounds. Disraeli admitted to Queen Victoria that in normal circumstances he might well have been reckoned unsuitable. But with the Eastern Question again coming to the fore and the possibility looming of a confrontation with Russia, the government believed that he could be relied upon to pursue the vigorous policy that it desired. It was also probably no accident that Disraeli and his father, the novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton, were close friends. As Disraeli put it to Salisbury,

I have no doubt whatever, as to our course: we must, completely and unflinchingly, support Lytton. We chose him for this very kind of business. Had it been a routine age, we might have made what might be called a more prudent selection, but we foresaw what would occur, and indeed saw what was occurring; and we wanted a man of ambition, imagination, some vanity, and much will – and we have got him.1